BURLINGTON, Mass. (MyFoxBoston.com) – Police are using a new technique to fight crime, possibly before a crime is even committed.
It may sound too good to be true, but predictive policing already seems to be working for one local police department.
Predictive policing was lauded as one of the "top inventions of the year" two years ago by TIME Magazine, and the Burlington Police Dept. spoke with FOX 25's Heather Hegedus to explain exactly how the technique is applied and enforced.
The police department uses predictive analytics, similar to those used by Walmart and Amazon to predict consumer behavior, to predict crime behavior. Burlington uses similar mathematical techniques coupled with crime statistics in order to predict where certain incidents may occur.
The technique, which relies heavily on accurate data and current trends, recently helped the Burlington Police Department catch a very persistent burglar, who had hit more than a dozen homes in a certain area.
Police realized they might have been dealing with the same suspect so they pulled police reports, a map, and began looking for trends.
"We're not just spending random money and putting people on the streets and having them drive around town. We're putting them in an area that's been hit, that will most likely be hit, and we are making arrests and we are reducing crime," said Officer Jim Tigges, from the Burlington Police Department.
Officers said criminals are people and people are creatures of habit. If a method works, they tend to stick to that particular method. Police also said criminals tend to commit crimes just outside the radius of their home or officer.
Knowing that information and using longitude and latitude, police used averages, ranges and standard deviations to find the physical heart of where the break-ins were happening.
Once the officers determined the suspect's next potential move, they patrolled the area in plainclothes during certain days and around certain times and caught him. The suspect was on his 16th break-in and even had some of the stolen items on him.
Predictive policing also worked for police this past Christmas season, a prime time for shoplifting at the Burlington mall.
Police said by running the numbers and estimating which stores were likely to be hit and when, they were able to cut down on mall theft by 27.5 percent compared with the previous five years.
Police said they are not concerned that predictive policing could violate people's civil liberties or involve racial profiling because they are looking at places and times, not race.
In a time of police department budget cuts, predictive policing does not cost a dime and can be self-taught employing free computer software.
Police in Boston are also using the techniques when dealing with drugs, while police in Nashua, N.H. are using predictive policing to cut down on shoplifting.